Wednesday, October 2, 2019


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———————
THE WAITING GAME
 
As dawn breaks there are three marquee events on the impeachment docket:
 
Speaker Pelosi holds her weekly press conference at 10:45am ET.
 
At 2:00pm ET, President Trump has a joint press conference with the president of Finland.
 
And at some point today “State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, whose office is responsible for investigating abuse and mismanagement in the department and operates largely independently from its control,” will be on Capitol Hill to brief House and Senate committee staffers on documents “obtained…from the acting legal advisor of the Department of State.”
 
“It is unclear exactly what Linick will provide the committees. But the demand for any credible information related to Ukraine and the State Department is at a fever pitch as Democrats seek to build a case for Trump’s ouster out of his newly revealed dealings with the government of Ukraine.” (Washington Post)
 
My take: That meeting could define the day or be nothing at all. Only time will tell. (Note to some readers: that’s a joke.)
 
****
 
There is a lot of other impeachment-related news that is at once cosmic and meaningless in the scheme of things: the president is using Twitter to say senseless, base-rallying, and otherwise counterproductive things (talk of a coup, talk of finding the whistleblower, talk of jailing Adam Schiff); Secretary Pompeo, Attorney General Barr, and Energy Secretary Perry are all more involved in the impeachment saga than they were 24 hours ago; Iowa Republican Senator Grassley, long a whistleblower advocate, is pushing back against the president.
 
My take: Watch all of those developments, but no need to jump to any conclusions about them today.
 
****
Here is a Wall Street Journal nugget you need:
 
“The whistleblower is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee as soon as early next week, though his attorneys and the committee continue to negotiate logistics, including a time and place.”
 
My take: No single factor will be more determinative of the contours and results of the impeachment process than the degree to which the whistleblower survives scrutiny and tells a compelling story in a compelling manner.  That’s why Team Trump is doing a lot of spade work and opposition research on what is now still a shadowy target.
 
****
 
Most of the palace intrigue reporting on the White House and the president’s behavior and attitudes is neither surprising nor actually new. 
 
But until the president actually has a spokesperson and strategist on impeachment who is a match for the Pelosi-Schiff machine, the status of Trump’s relationship with Rudy Giuliani matters bigly.
 
So, this:
 
“Trump has long measured allies’ loyalty by their willingness to fight for him on TV, and he complained bitterly this week that few had done so. And those who did, including House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy on CBS’ ‘60 Minutes,’ he believed had flubbed their appearance, according to a person not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
 
“Though there has been growing discontent with Giuliani in the West Wing and State Department, where some officials blame him for leading Trump into the Ukraine mess, the president continued to stand by his personal lawyer.” (Associated Press)
 
And this:
 
“’The only person that likes Rudy on TV right now is Trump,’ said another person close to the president, adding that Mr. Trump ‘likes people who get on TV and fight for him.’” (Wall Street Journal)
 
My take: Now that Rudy is a lawyered-up witness in the impeachment probe, what was true a week ago is more true now. Trump might HEART Rudy, but the president will not win this fight if Rudy’s role is as big, controversial, and off-key as it has been.  There is currently no one who appears to be stepping in to run the virtual war room for the president and the presidency. And Rudy keeps returning the calls and texts of reporters, bookers, anchors, and, pretty much everyone else.
 
****
 
Two essential reading New York Times opinion pieces:
 
Tom Friedman:
 
“Democrats have to be so disciplined in how they prosecute this case. They need to have a single spokesman, Representative Adam Schiff, and everyone else needs to keep quiet. They need to have professional prosecutors, not uninformed legislators, question witnesses; they need to keep the focus on the nonpolitical witnesses; and they need to have their presidential candidates stay out of this impeachment story and concentrate on their ideas for reviving and reuniting America.”
 
Susan Rice makes one of the clearest cases yet for why Trump’s Ukraine actions are a strong basis for articles of impeachment, as well as unorthodox and indefensible.
 
My take: Republicans are before too long going to have to live or die on the following hill – concede Trump’s behavior was unorthodox and indefensible, but argue that it was not impeachable.  When that day comes, it would seem that not all Republicans are going to make the same choice on that matter.
 
****
Two pieces of real world news outside the impeachment bubble that impact both the real lives of real people and the 2020 election:
 
* “Not all business was halted between the White House and Congress. Even as the impeachment confrontation boiled, House Democrats briefed White House staffers on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s prescription drug legislation. Lowering drug costs is a top policy priority for both the speaker and the president. Joe Grogan, a top Trump domestic policy adviser, called it a ‘very productive start.’” (Associated Press)
 
* “US manufacturing survey shows worst reading in a decade.” (CNBC)
 
My take: With impeachment news on a slow boil (that is going to change soon), it is a good time to go back to our mantra.  Unless the House impeaches and the Senate convicts, other factors will determine if Trump is reelected or not. The state of his legislative agenda and the state of the economy are two pretty big ones.
 
****
 
Here are some other factors that will impact the president’s reelection effort:
 
* Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee raised a combined $125 million in the third quarter.
 
My take: Politico gets it right, calling that sum “a massive total that disturbed some Democrats who believe their party should be more focused on countering Trump’s head start in the 2020 presidential election.”
 
* The RNC continues to rejigger party rules to reduce even further the chances of a serious nomination challenge to Trump. (New York Times)
 
My take: Incumbent presidents almost never lose; every modern incumbent who has lost had to fight off a competitor to win the nomination.
 
****
 
* In the third quarter, Bernie Sanders raised a ton, Pete Buttigieg raised nearly a ton, Kamala Harris raised far less than a ton (but enough to avoid bad press).  We are waiting to see what Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden raised.   Read all about it in the New York Times.
 
My take: Sanders continues to be an undervalued stock. A lot of the short-term analysis of the Democratic nomination battle will depend on the size of the gap between what Warren raised and what Biden raised.

****
 
* Three pieces of good news for Warren (naturally): she is tied with Biden in a new New Hampshire poll; she is in a public spat with Mark Zuckerberg; and there is another story, by CNBC, about how plutocrats are worried about her being the nominee.
 
My take: It is too facile to say Biden is being hurt by the Ukraine stuff. His slipping poll numbers are a function of the lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy, his failure to drive a future-oriented message, Warren’s strength, and the process-obsessed media coverage he gets. Also, most profoundly, his slipping poll numbers are a function of ….his slipping poll numbers.
 
One can never quote Haley Barbour too often: In politics, good gets better and bad gets worse.  That is the problem Team Biden needs to solve now.  And it is the wave Warren continues to surf.
 
****
 
Top sports story: Brewers’ Trent Grisham: Costly error ‘going to sting for a long time’
ESPN
 
Top business story: FDA issues warning on medical devices that are vulnerable to takeover from hackers
CNBC
 
Top entertainment story: Twitter Hit by Outages Around the World
Variety

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